Two SAMRC scientists help highlight the urgency to solve planetary emergencies and secure humanity’s future

Dr Caradee Wright and Ms. Bianca Wernecke from the SAMRC’s Environment and Health Research Unit (EHRU) are contributing authors in the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)’s First Synthesis Report.

Titled: “Making Peace with Nature”, the Report was released recently after one year of collaborative writing with renowned scientists from around the world – Wright and Wernecke specifically contributed to the human health sections of the Report.

According to the duo, what makes the New UNEP Synthesis Report special and unique is that it provides a blueprint to urgently solve planetary emergencies and secure humanity’s future. “Importantly it presents key actions that should be adopted at all levels of society,” say the two.

The Report states that, meeting ramped-up climate and biodiversity targets, cutting deadly pollution and achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, needs an all-society push for sustainability. Also, shifting world views and putting nature at the heart of decision-making is key to achieving transformative change. On COVID-19, the Report emphasizes that the recovery plans are an unmissable opportunity to invest in nature and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

“At an individual level, the report asks us to reconsider our relationship with nature, to learn about sustainability and change our habits to reduce our use of resources, to cut food, water and electricity waste as well as adopting healthier diets. Ultimately it is not only about the health of Nature, but it is our own health and lives, and the lives of our children, that are at stake,” say Dr Wright and Ms. Wernecke.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said: “By bringing together the latest scientific evidence showing the impacts and threats of the climate emergency, the biodiversity crisis and the pollution that kills millions of people every year, [this report] makes clear that our war on nature has left the planet broken. But it also guides us to a safer place by providing a peace plan and a post-war rebuilding programme.”

What’s next?

People from all levels of society need to work together – some key actions presented by the report include:

  • Governments can include natural capital in measures of economic performance, put a price on carbon and shift trillions of dollars in subsidies from fossil fuels, non-sustainable agriculture and transportation towards low-carbon and nature-friendly solutions
  • International organizations can promote One Health approaches and ambitious international targets for biodiversity, such as expanded and improved protected area networks
  • Financial organizations can stop lending for fossil fuels and develop innovative finance for biodiversity conservation and sustainable agriculture.
  • Businesses can adopt the principles of the circular economy to minimize resource use and waste and commit to maintaining transparent and deforestation-free supply chains
  • Non-government organizations can build networks of stakeholders to ensure their full participation in decisions about sustainable use of land and marine resources
  • Scientific organizations can pioneer technologies and policies to reduce carbon emissions, increase resource efficiency and lift the resilience of cities, industries, communities and ecosystems

Full Report | Read more

The two are no strangers to tackling environmental issues through contributions to key publications – last year they contributed to UNEP’s topical report titled: “Preventing the Next Pandemic: zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission”. They also wrote a commentary for the South African Journal of Science (SAJS) on how the report’s messages can inform the changes needed in a uniquely South African context.

In 2019, Dr Wright was part of a high-level delegation that took a stand against air pollution. She, together with a colleague from Academy of Sciences of South Africa (ASSAf), teamed up with Brazil, Germany and the United States of America science academies, and the US National Academy of Medicine, to issue an urgent call to governments, businesses and citizens to reduce global air pollution.

About the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

UNEP is the leading global voice on the environment. It provides leadership and encourages partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations.